Tuesday, 13 December 2016

20.16 Blog #30: Blogs and bands, poems and young people

My phone must have crashed, or ran out of memory, or decided to rewrite history, because the calendar has lost all the details from the past year.  It’s quite scary how I have to now rely on my memory to note what has happened this year.

I slap my posters on my wall from every event I put on, so thankfully I have some record in the form of paper and bluetack

We hit 13 slams and 2 years running of Say Owt Slam.  We kicked off with the very unique and honest poet Sally Jenkinson, followed by a feast of poets, Rose Drew, Lily Luty, Marina Poppa, Adele Hampton and headliner Sophia Walker  for International Women's Festival.  A little later we ran an Anti-Slam, this beautifully bizarre new concept of worst poet wins championed by Dan Simpson and Paula Varjack.  Our Clash of Champions, guested by Jack Dean, was won by Ian Winter.  After popping over to Edinburgh Fringe, we then returned with a spate of slams with Scott Tyrrell, Vanessa Kisuule and finally Rob Auton.  We also ran a couple of open mics hosted by Chris Singleton and Gen Walsh.  And that's not to mention all the wonderful slammers that came and cracked out words, and the amazing audiences who constantly bring the energy to make the nights so intense, but friendly. It’s hard to get a handle for me, I see behind-the-scenes, in front-of-the-scenes and the script-for-the-scenes so it all becomes very day-to-day for me.  But I know much the nights matter to people, and I always appreciate the feedback, the support, the love from the York scene, travelling poets, the guests and Apples & Snakes.  We have BIG plans for 2017, and started recording a Podcast now on iTunes, so I’d say Say Owt is the most visibly one of the big hits of 2016.  Thanks to everyone x

Sequels are always difficult, and I made a laborious joke of this in my second show at EdFringe in 2 years.  I’ll admit, I wanted to spend more time writing and making the show, and the theme became something slightly different to my initial concept.  But I did really enjoy running the show, and always appreciate the spoken word community at EdFringe greatly.  It’s always a learning curve, and never take for granted what it means to be part of that world.  I did manage to get some new poems out of the show which have stood the test of time, namely I’m Sorry I Missed Your Gig and Discount Tescos Bunting, the latter now on YouTube.  Will Up The Nerd Punks 3 make an appearance in 2017?  Stay tuned, true believers…

The year began with Hull Truck Youth Theatre putting on my adaptation of Kafka’s The Castle, which I won’t lie:  was a tricky creature to pin down.  As I’m sure any Kafka fan will confer.  But I’m really proud of the final piece, and the production was a great tangled ensemble of characters and I think a modern day (and troubling perspective) on work.  I directed a Play In A Week for the Lawrence Batly Theatre, one based around conscientious objectors of WW1 and the other wizards and spells (slightly different themes I'll admit...). I also wrote a short adaptation of The Emperor’s New Clothes for Harrogate Youth Theatre, but mainly I’m proud to have been doing more facilitation in general for Lawrence Batley Youth Theatre, Harrogate Theatre and York Theatre Royal and worked with their Youth Theatre groups.  Thanks everyone x

I kicked off 2016 by putting on an all-dayer of bands for MooseFest.  We did one more Moose gig with Captain Chaos before my parenter-in-gigs ducked out to focus on work.  So I’ve been doing more gigs as Pewter Promotions with feminist queer indie-punk, like Colour Me Wednesday, Ay Carmela, The Tuts, Fairweather Band, Jesus & His Judgemental Father and Jake & The Jellyfish and a whole number of ace supports.  It's important for me to learn about gig promotion and Doing It Right, and not overloading myself.  But what I think is essential is I put on bands I want to see, else it becomes a favour, not a fun experience.  Thanks everyone x

I decided at the start of the year I would write loads of new poems.  That didn’t quite happen how I’d like.  I have this constantly worry I need ‘this kind of poem’.  The funny one to open with.  The anti-racist one.  The one that changes everyone’s minds.  But I have written some poems for Up The Nerd Punks 2 which are now part of my set, and have been working on some in the lying light for December.  I think it’s not always useful to assume you’ll write loads of new stuff just because you say you’ll write a load of new stuff.  So before I go to bed I’ve been writing for 1-2 mins at least.  Just scribbles.  Thoughts.  We’ll see what 2017 holds.

My band put out an EP!  I performed started scratching a new show for 2017!  I spoke at the Art of Punk Conference at the University of Northampton!  I spoke at the Third Angel Symposium at Leeds!  We continued making monthly nerdy quizzes and it's been a mega fun time, I assure you!  Thanks everyone x

I've also been pretty down at times, filled with the usual anxiety and General Blues of 21st century life.  But thanks for all my friends who stick with me, and I'm sorry to those I don't give enough time to, or have let down.

Thanks everyone x Sorry everyone x

Love, solidarity and rage x

Sunday, 11 December 2016

20.16 Blog #29: National Anti-Slam

Dear Sir and/or Madam.

Further to my previous correspondence dated 1st May 2016 (viewablefor your achievable achieve here) I have been strongly encouraged by my outrage to send this further correspondence.

Imagine my horror upon taking a short visit to That London and taking a stroll through gentrified Hackney and visiting the Picturehouses, I, once again, was forced into a context whereupon I was viewing an ANTI-SLAM in a Picturehouse!  Not just any old run-of-the-mill Anti-Slam but the NATIONAL ANTI-SLAM FINAL.

I was outraged like a shinbone being wafted in the desert
I was disgusted like a hedgehog headbutting A mollusc
I WAS maddened LIKE a stovepipe at closing time
I was fuming like Rome ON a Tuesday

I was quite literally angry.

The pretence of Edinburgh’s Doug Gary proved, once again, that once more performance poetry is, as it once was, a once-and-future thing of pretentiousness.

London’s Camilla made me disgusted to my very core, my core was well and truly rumbled and rubbed and was quite literally pumped with terror and disgust and other emotions far too smutty for the Internet.

I rather felt the Sheffield’s Starr Quality Theatre School™ representative was far too young and working class for a poetry event.  In addition (or, moreover) the reprehensive from Cambridge (Miss Spinning Jenny) was a poor imitation of Working Class Northern Life, and I should know, I’ve seen Kes.

Clearly Ms. Joy France, is clearly an example of what happens when lovely ladies are inclined (or, forced?) to visit Manchester.  The York poet Monica Offlebaum used a large amount of cultural appropriation, a term I do not fully understand but am willing to employ in my review.  Vera 100% Chinese's poetry was...

Sorry, got interuptted.

Now, where was I?  As a Normal Person I neither use, nor like, Twitter and the Edinburgh Fringe duo (American, thus proving the sort of place Edinburgh becomes in August) known as #HashTag@TeamTrending were rather loud but did make some effective political points.

Newcastle’s Viking No Name was neither a Viking, nor unnamed.  They resembled a mime, alas they used words.

However, as a chaffinch enthusiast, I was highly impressed with J. Arthur ProofRock’s deep interpretation was deeply stirring and a fine winner.  I wish him well in whatever body shapes he goes onto in the future.

The Judges were quite visibly referred to as a Jury interchangeable, never once stepping up to clatter down the hammer and put an end to this horror.  No, more they seemed to love the lack of love.

I will admit hosts Dan Simpson and Paula Varjack were admirably bearded.

I do rather hope this never returns to my hope town of York City FC and I do sincerely hope that poetry can do so much betterer.

Yours sincerely

A. T. Slam

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

20.16 Blog #28: Albums of 2016

Henry’s albums of the year

So 2016 has been and is almost gone, and as usual I have a number of albums and EPs spinning on my antique 2009 iPod.  In fact, quite a lot.  Thematically, the majority are indie-pop/punk with a strong queer undercurrent.  I think this reflects the gigs and scenes I’ve been hanging out with.  

Sometimes you might assume the indie-pop/punk tunes below are descendents of the landfill indie of the late 00s.  These were mostly laddish bands doing anthemtic choruses, this new wave are more inclusive, political, DIY and lyrically inventive.

Something I love about following a band is how their catalogue of music expands.  A couple of years ago, all I had were 3 Petrol Girls songs that spun around on my repeat in my ear.  2015 I managed to put them on not once, but twice.  Now 2016 bequeathed us the Some Thing EP and their debut album Talk of Violence and I am consistently inspired by the band’s commitment to inter-sectionality.  Positioned as a feminist post-hardcore band, Petrol Girls also champion LBGTQ+ and refugee/immigration causes.  The album itself feels beautifully raw and captures their live performance, but for me whenever I listen to it I am reminded there’s a world of activism out there that isn’t going to get restful anytime soon.

Martha’s debut album was easily my favourite album of 2014, and probably one of my favourite bands.  Initially this album felt a little less raw than their first, but over time I realised instead of offered a more playful introspective approach to song-writing that probably make better earworms in the long run.  The album is a little more funky, a little more pop, a little funnier and friendlier than their s/t album, and the jangly upbeat tempo makes me return to the ‘M’ section of my iPod.  There's a lot of intelligent lyrics, well-crafted song-structure and a variety of tempos that it makes the album feel very special and so easy to listen to over and over and always discover something fun or unique in each song.  It always makes me re-think lyrics as poetry and stories but still with a punk and pop edge.

A band I’d heard a lot about, the album can feel incredibly smooth with a recurring undercurrent of politics, feminism, home, family and has a real strength that, if I’m honest, surprised me.  The band manage to capture a great turn of phrase, hook and definitely feels like a full repeatable album than a handful of catchy songs.  The band’s lyrics have real story-telling potential and Lande’s vocals draw you in alongside the music.  This was a toss-up between Happy Accident’s album (see below) simply because genre and scene-wise they share a lot, but I think I’m going for Muncie Girls because I already knew I was a big Happy Accidents fan thanks to their earlier furious madcap high energy EP (and their debut album is just as pumped), but this album was a refreshing discovery.

To lump all these albums together is a CRIME, especially as they all have their own unique charm.  Colour Me Wednesday’s EP is another slice of their clever pop lyricism, Ay Carmela treads the line nicely between heartfelt story-telling and sharp punk, The Tuts’ Update Your Brain is pretty much the perfect vehicle for their engaging and finely crafted live performance and Daniel Versus The World’s queer piano-punk music is as sad as it is angry, as powerful as it is delicate.  However the recurring themes of queer identity, feminism, friendship, home, DIY, anger and love, individuality and community have made the Dovetown collective mainstays of my listening life (and this way I get to include all them in my top 5).  Also, the fact the collective all play in each other's bands, and are essentially a family, means I hope they don't mind rocking up as single supportive gang as they so often do at gigs.

This album sneaks into the top 5, not because it’s not been well-played on my iPod but because actually I’m not as into ska-punk as I once was back in t’day.  But I will always return to SB6 as a band that excite me.  Not your run-of-the-mill ska-punk fusion, this album packs all the playfulness with rap and electronic music to keep apace of the scene.  Whilst the fury of out-and-out political lyrics might be the SB6 of the past, what the band still do incredibly well is tell stories of (usually female) characters, and has a direct message to stand up for yourself as a person, an individual, as power in your own right.  They have a great commitment to making something fresh, and in a world of indie-pop I was grateful, and excited by, these bangers.

Notable mentions:  Happy Accidents (You Might Be Right), Pok√©mon Liberation Army (TM101), OPS (Sluice Around), Chris T-T (9 Green Songs), The Julie Ruin (Hit Reset), The Fairweather Band (Meow), Harry & Chris (Simple Times)

Shout outs to:  Viva Zapata (Fuck It, It’ll Be Fine), The Potentials (We Are The Potentials), Doe (Some Things Last Longer Than You), KINKY (Sissy Mosh), Skull Puppies (Endless Dungeon Crawl), Camp Shy (Camp Shy), ROMP (Departure From Venus), The Coathangers (Nosebleed Weekend), Savages (Adore Life), Dream Nails (DIY), Tough Tits (Hairless), Austeros (Painted Blue), Pup (The Dream Is Over), Syslak (Syslak EP), Shit Present (Misery + Disaster), Dan Kemp (Holding Down)

Also my band made an EP.  Pewter City Punks (Glass Type EP)

Thursday, 1 December 2016

20.16 Blog #27: Art of Punk Talk

Below is the talk I gave for the Art Of Punk symposium on 25th Nov at Northampton University

Leeds Town Hall, packed with pupils from across all Yorkshire to attend the GSCE poetry live event, featuring some of the greatest poets the establishment deems worth of being on the English syllabus.  Towards the end of the day, a rake-thin figure makes his way onto stage, hair a frothy mess, eyes hidden behind deep black shades.  He holds up a glass of water and bemoans in a thick Salford accent:  “I wanted a whiskey, but they gave me a water.  Why would you want to drink something fish screw in”.  The assemblance of pupils is amused, perhaps bemused.  He proceeds to read I Married A Monster From Outer Space.  He is, of course, John Cooper Clarke and in the audience is a young Henry Raby, on a day out from Oakland Secondary School for a taste of live poetry.

I grew up in an era dominated by American pop-punk, the Blink-182s, the Offspring and Green Day.  These bands never appealed to me, it was only when I was 16 and bought a copy of Never Mind The Bollocks from a car boot sale did I find a joy for punk rock music.

I come from a theatre background, arguably the most punk rock theatre sector:  The Youth Theatre sector.  And in the amphitheatre of the Big Youth Theatre Festival, surrounded by other young people from across the UK I rambled out my first poem which began with the phrase ‘I’m A Post-Nietzsche Creature’, a direct reference to Cooper Clarke’s line in Post-War Glamour Girls.

From then on, I identified as a ‘punk poet’ by virtue of the fact I liked punk, and I did poetry.



1.  Does punk poetry come influenced by the dominant music we associate with that term?
2.  Does the virtue of being a punk make your poetry automatically punk, can a punk write non-punk poetry?
3.  What are the literary qualities of the genre, in other words, what the fuck is Punk Poetry?

I upset a fellow in my friends’s band, by saying his other band were not punk, or to be specific, not folk-punk.  They played folk, acoustic rock, bluesy music, but it wasn’t folk.  It was DIY (which we’ll get to later) but it was not punk.  Maybe punk-y.
I’m going to start by saying punk is not a music genre, but it is a genre.
Punk is defined by three things:
Anti-authority, to the point of questioning the world
Anti-commodity, to the point of being DIY
The 1960s were about free love, progression, liberation and freedom.  Peace, man.
So punk celebrated the death of this redundant idea, this fakeness, this lie.
I wanna destroy passer-by, I wanna be sedated, hate & war, I am a poser, love will tear us apart etc.
Now, that’s fine for punk rock music to play with this disgusting behaviour, but poetry is something different.  Poetry is meant to be beautiful,
And punk poetry acts acts came in a wave.  The Medway Poets, Mark Mi Murduz and John Cooper Clarke and Seething Wells and Porky The Poet.  You could catch stand-up comics, and ranters and jugglers and theatre-makers amongst the bands.
So how do we define punk poetry?
Let’s look at anti-authority:
God Save The Queen, She Ain’t No Human Being.
Punk certainly has a healthy distrust for power structures, which is why with a few examples, it usually hovers towards the anarchist wing of politics.  Even the punx (with an x) who enjoy a good few cans of cider and listen to The Casualties with a handy pot of glue hate the authority that would stop them getting smashed, even if by their own admission “politics is bullshit, fucks communists blah blah blah”.  They just wanna do what they wanna do.
And punk poetry is the same that it defines the structures of publishing.
Let’s look at examples of punk poetry from the 1970s and 80s.  Joolz Denby, Bradford-born-and-based poet always found it difficult to get published, or rather publishers found it difficult to deal with her and her frankness.  Attila the Stockbroker regularly rails against the intuitions of bankers, bosses and businesses.  And fascists.  A committed Marxist.  His poetry has always been taking power.
Of course, this politicised life has not been without threat, Joolz talks about being attacked for the way she dressed and acted by men disgusted by her individualism, and Attila about being targeted by the far right.
More modern punk poets include Pete The Temp, who has dedicated his life to supporting squatting activism, and more recently occupations.  Pete comes across as a gentle soul but has been dedicated to rethinking and reclaiming space in an increasingly gentrified London.  Jenn Hart is committed to supporting feminist causes, putting on feminist gigs and acts and writing intense poetry about modern women’s issues.
Here are three chords, now start a band
Punk rock and DIY are not synonymous, but they are often on the same bill DIY.  Metal, Goth, Hip-Hop, cosplay, computer gaming, comic book publishing all have these elements of DIY
I define DIY as making art using whatever materials you have to hand in the most low-fi manner, which can also mean cheapest, way possible to reject capitalist and commodification of that framework.  Very different to entrepeunirliamism, which uses materials to hand but for the end result to actually make money and work within a capitalist framework.
Some bands and promoters come to DIY by necessity, with the lack of support from mainstream promoters or structures, but others choose the DIY life in order to reject a world of money-making.
Punk poetry often employs this form of DIY through the publishing of zines, current zine Paper & Ink and excellent example by Martin Appleby down in Brighton or Zach Roddis who made his own cassettes and poetry books.  Poetry zines can be traced to riot grrrl scenes linked to person zines (perzines).  No one else with publish your work due to your gender, sexuality, race or content of the work (or at least, without editing) so stay the master of your work.
So punk poetry isn’t waiting for publishers to respond, waiting for those deals to come to you.  It’s neither about waiting for gigs, it’s making them happen yourself.  It’s putting on poetry gigs in pubs and small spaces.  We’re putting on Harry Baker in a Church next week.  Rethinking space is increasingly harder, but also increasingly more necessary.
But wait Henry.  This all sounds very familiar.
Political poetry that challenging structures and hierarchies is not unusual.  Look at Adrian Mitchell in the decade before.  Certainly poets from Black communities, like Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zepahniah have always been critical of racist institutions.  Modern black poets, like Inua Ellams and Vanessa Kisuule also tell their own stories.  Jess Green went viral for her attack on Gove, Hollie McNish’s mathematics was a nice summery of the problems with racism, Kate Tempest has been looking at the underside of society, Sophia Walker and Jackie Hagan have told their stories of being queer.
Poets regularly make their own zines and booklets, regularly make event happen on a shoestring.  Kirsten Luckins from Apples & Snakes talks about the ecology of spoken word, like it’s a nature reserve and we artists are the wildlife.
So it’s not just punk poets challenging mainstream thoughts and right-wing politics.
It’s not just punk poets being DIY, either.
So maybe there’s something in the ugliness.
(note ugly =/= not sexy.  Punk can be very sexy, and ugly, at the same time)
Ugly.  Messy.  Weird.  Raw.  Flawed. Homely.  Home.
From the sound effects of vomit on Chumawbawamba tracks, skinheads tattooing their faces to Poly Styrene shaving off her hair and the gobbing.  Lemmy’s looks, the mud the Slits caked themselves in, Joe Strummer’s missing teeth, Johnny Rotten’s Richard III crawl.  Even the word has a root meaning in being worthless.  Make my day, punk.
In commedia del arte, we see the figure of the harlequin, the trickster, who is allowed to get away with mischief.  This character exists today in the gender-blurring lines of the Panto Dame.
Look at Rick Mayall’s character of Rik, and his stand-up where he faffs, sneers and gushes from his greasy face.  He’s parodying a punk poet, he’s subverting subversion.
I would argue punk poetry’s recurring theme is a sense of the ugly, the bizarre, the strange, the dirty.  Whether that’s in the form and the verse, or the topic.
Punk is everywhere under the surface.  It’s in the poetry gigs in pubs and in the politics and in the publishing.  We built that network, and we kept it alive, we united with other genres and scenes.
But punk is when you get sweaty, when your voice is hoarse, when you’re nodding vigorously.  When you feel alive.
So that’s why I’m trying to do nowadays.  Bring the poets to perform at the punk gigs, bring the punk energy to the poetry gigs.  Which is why I run slams.  I want to drag the punk element into spoken word and make it vibrant and noisy and messy.  Similarly, I always try and get a poet to Say Some Words before punk bands to get them out of the comfort zone, introduce new audiences to poetry and also up the ante for the context of poetry.

And that is the role of punks in poetry and punk poetry.  To be the subversive voice inside existing scenes, to keep playing, agitating and twisting.  Being ugly.

20.16 Blog #26: Third Angel Talk

Below is a draft of the talk I gave at Third Angel's Where From Here Symposium 17th November at Leeds Beckett University.  I didn't really read this word-for-word, but hopefully got across the idea.  Third Angel are a 21-year-old Theatre Company making autobiogrpahical word that plays with text, stories, truth and space.

Strawbs Bar 2007.  Probably a kind of chill northerly breeze.  Young Henry, keen to be at University after a Gap Year of mainly working at Virgin Megastores and reading Harold Pinter.

Straws Bar.  Giant cushions in the shape of Strawberries hang upon the walls.  Bannister coated in too many layers of white paint.  Creaky floorboards.  Here, a Young Henry, keen to be at University after a Gap Year of mainly seeing his mates go off to University and attending very safe unenthusing poetry nights, gets up to read at Sticks & Stones

Sticks & Stones, the brainchild of Andy Craven-Griffiths and Adam Robinson, cohorts in poetry and words, a mixture of hip-hop background and literary story-telling.  Bringing poets from across the UK who are the best of the best of a bulging scene before the Scroobius Pips, kate Tempests, Hollie McNishs and Mark Grists did wonders for viral videos.

Young Henry Raby, totally forgets all his poems and ends up sticking Andy’s banana in his pocket.
I stopped trying to be John Cooper Clarke, and like all students, tried to work out who I was at University.  I seemed to me, in the depths of those times, that everyone else at University was doing incredibly well at being a well-adjusted, popular person while I stumbled around.  But I think, and only realise this now, that the best friendship circles I found where at those Strawbs nights.

So at University I developed a kind of personality in 3rd year as being some raving anarchist because I was against cuts to the University.  In the left-wing circles at the Uni, UI was a incredibly liberal lad circling around Worker’s Liberty, SWP, SP and the Anarchists trying to make sure everybody all got along.
And as part of 3rd year English & Theatre Studies, we saw Third Angels’ Words + Pictures.  What intrigued me was the autobiographical stripped down approach to theatre compared to other works we had been seeing at the Lowry and West Yorkshire Playhouse.  Also, I’m pretty certain it had Games Workshop references.

“You’re nothing like you are onstage” is something often said to me in the Real World.  On stage, all improvised asides and audience interactive banter, well rehearsed poems and necessary energy required to make the event memorable.

In The Real World, allergic to eye contact, apologetic, fiddly.

I find the world of poetry open mics and slams, the audience recognise truth.  Or that is to say, they recognise bullshit.  Vanessa Kisuule said of our recent slam it was her fav for years because everyone was being themselves.  In London, everyone is (apparently) trying to be the next Big Thing.

Hi, I’m a human being, here’s my story or opinion to share with you fellow human beings.  Thanks.
But it’s a lie!  A goddamn lie!

Because the more we incorporate elements of stand-up, of theatre and character, elements of story-telling, of being the bardic clown, we are blurring what is truth.  We can play with it, make it a performance, even fake it.

If you own the stage, if you are in control as the story-teller, as Third Angel’s work often is, the audience place faith in you, they believe in you, they are prepared to trust you.  They recognise agendas, perhaps they might not always believe a stand-up comic, but there is something very Perfect about poetry.  Unless it’s of the whacky sort, it feels raw and honest.

There’s also the problem if you’re going to get political, like any great public speaking…

So does Henry Raby the performer have a fake quality to him, a constructed confidence which leaves me wondering if I’m being honest to my genre.

In this book on D.I.Y. a lot of the authors are very very good but they’re all talking about the idea of DIY.  Third Angels’ entry is saying, look, don’t worry too much about the ideas.  BEWARE THE SOFA is their motto.  Beware getting stuck sat down over-thinking, discussing, debating, analysing.  Just make something.  Just crack on and do something.  This is one of the unwritten rules of running Youth Theatre sessions (yes there is also YT Facilitator Henry) is you need to get those teenagers on their feet!

So what I take away from Third Angel is their playfulness with autobography and truth, their blurred lines of audience/performer and also their readniess which will hopefully be a boon in the uncertain world of 2017.